The Value of Getting a Second Opinion for Your Cancer Diagnosis

Treatment // March 13, 2017

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is life changing. You’re likely experiencing a wide array of emotions, on top of an overwhelming number of questions. It’s entirely understandable to want to know all the facts about your diagnosis and treatment options available before deciding on the best course for you. Seeking a second opinion can ease your nerves and make you more confident in the next steps of your cancer journey.

When to Get a Second Opinion

There are many reasons patients choose to seek a second opinion, and it’s not an uncommon practice. Though you can get a second opinion at any time during your cancer journey, most patients get one before beginning treatment. It’s a big decision to make, and it’s important to feel entirely confident in your choice and know you have explored all the options.

“It’s incredibly important that patients feel comfortable with the team they are going to turn to for cancer diagnosis and treatment, and a big part of that is knowing you understand the options, the risks and the benefits,” Dr. Sai Yendamuri, the Chair and Attending Surgeon in Thoracic Surgery of Roswell Park Cancer Institute recently told the Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center.

Technology, and thus available treatment options, can vary among different hospitals and clinics. Being able to go to a different facility could allow for more advanced treatment options or a more tailored treatment for your specific case.

Dr. Sai Yendamuri

Dr. Sai Yendamuri

One of the biggest myths or misunderstandings is feeling like you have to make a decision ASAP, today. Take a breath, give yourself some space to think. – Dr. Sai Yendamuri, Chair and Attending Surgeon of Thoracic Surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Patients might also seek second opinions if their doctor has any uncertainty in their case. Misdiagnosis can and does occur, especially if you were unable to see a specialist for your kind of cancer initially. In the case of mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure, early symptoms are nonspecific. Sometimes patients who actually have pleural mesothelioma are misdiagnosed with the flu or pneumonia at first! With rare or unusual cancers, patients should consider seeking a second opinion from a specialist.

Dr. Yendamuri explained they actively encourage patients to seek a second, or even a third, opinion before undergoing treatment. “One of the biggest myths or misunderstandings is feeling like they have to make a decision ASAP, today. With most cancers, and generally speaking with mesothelioma, you can take a few weeks to really get informed and be comfortable with any treatment decisions. So take a breath, give yourself some space to think. And especially with a rare disease like mesothelioma, you really want to make sure your provider is experienced and informed about your particular cancer.”

Learn more about mesothelioma treatment options and specialists

How to Get a Second Opinion

The first step is talking to your doctor. Some people feel nervous or uneasy about explaining they’d like a second opinion. Though it might feel like an awkward conversation, your doctor should be completely understanding, and in some cases even encourage it. Ultimately, you shouldn’t feel worried about having an open and honest dialogue with your doctor. They should be aware of your decision, and might even be able to recommend a doctor for you to consult with.

Before going into your appointment, you will need a copy of your medical records including any scans and test results. You should also bring a summary of your current doctor’s prescribed treatment plan. It’s important to also check your insurance plan to see what will be covered. For example, if your second doctor wants to perform further diagnostic testing, some policies won’t cover these tests if they were completed in your original diagnosis.

In addition to what you have learned from your doctor, do some digging on your own. If you were diagnosed with a rare cancer like mesothelioma but didn’t see a specialist, you might not have a clear understanding of the disease or all the different treatment methods available. Being as informed as possible before heading into your consultation can help you leave with confidence in your next steps. Prepare a list of questions ahead of time so you can cover all your concerns, including what treatment methods they suggest, the side effects of those treatments, and next steps if the treatment isn’t working for you. It can also be helpful to have a friend or family member with you to act as a second set of ears and support during the appointment.

Ultimately, a second opinion should give you peace of mind. When faced with a serious, life-changing diagnosis, you should feel confident in the diagnosis itself and the treatment options you have. So if you’re unsure about next steps or have any doubt in the back of your mind, it wouldn’t hurt to get a second opinion and take some weight off your shoulders.